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10 Questions with Sarah Chesney

Updated: Apr 28, 2021

Sarah Chesney, our new General Manager, talks about her musical background, experience in musicology and arts management, and what she enjoys most about her new role with us.

1. What was your first experience of Chamber Music?

I first encountered chamber music at high school. Friends I’d met through playing in larger youth ensembles cajoled me into entering the annual secondary schools competition. While I enjoy being part of an orchestra – which can feel like being part of a giant musical machine – chamber music is still my favourite type of music to play.

2. You’re not a string player, so what’s your musical background?

I studied clarinet at university, but now I really only play with friends. Instead, I found myself drawn to musicology, which I continued to study overseas. I’ve had stints teaching clarinet to beginners, too, which is always rewarding. When a group of more than 30 children finishes the class with a (mostly) in-tune ‘Jingle Bells’ and all their reeds intact there’s definitely a sense of accomplishment!

3. You mentioned being drawn to musicology, what particularly interests you about it?

Musicology combines my musical, literary, historical, and language interests. On the one hand, I get to work up close with the notes in a score, analysing what about it might induce a particular response from a listener or performer. On the other hand, I use historical contexts to build a bigger picture of music’s role in society. I’ve taught 19th-century music at the New Zealand School of Music, and discovering the new perspectives each student brings to the same (old!) music is always interesting.

4. Do you have a favourite era or genre of music?

Most of my research focusses on 19th-century Italian opera. Looking at how opera slots into – or challenges – political and cultural contexts fascinates me, as do the ideas and events of 19th-century history. For me, there’s also nothing quite like experiencing opera live; it seems to consume all your senses at once. Many of the operas that premiered in the 19th century have never been revived for good reason, but I haven’t quite given up the hope of turning up an excellent, long-forgotten opera from the depths of an archive somewhere!

5. And arts management? How have you ended up at the New Zealand String Quartet?

I’ve returned to the arts sector after getting in a good dose of report-writing at the Ministry of Education and Tertiary Education Commission, and it’s wonderful to be back working with such an energised and passionate group of people. Previously, I worked in the Artistic department at the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, both before and after heading overseas for a few years. My last role there involved planning t